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Miles Teller is OK playing the sensitive dude in a bro comedy

The actor talks about working with a very funny Jonah Hill and how the world of calculators might be fascinating.
Miles TellerWar Dogs

In “War Dogs,” Miles Teller has a tough job to do: Avoid cracking up every time Jonah Hill opens his mouth. Based on a crazy true story, the film finds the actor, 29, playing David Packouz, a young man who teamed up with a disreputable childhood friend, Hill’s Efraim Diveroli, to become low-rent arms dealers during the Iraq War. They had no experience, yet they found themselves peddling cheap goods to the U.S. army, making a fortune before their shadier dealings drew the attention of the feds.

Playing David, you have to walk a line between doing horrible stuff and still being likeable.
As an actor you have to find a way to justify what they did. But for me, I didn’t think it was a greed thing. It came down to money, which is something he did not have. It came down to being able to provide for his wife and kid.

And in real life, they didn’t do a lot of the crazier, globe-trotting stuff you two do in the movie.
In real life, those guys did a lot of the stuff behind the guise of a laptop. Whereas because we’re making a movie, we want it to be more entertaining. So you’re driving through the “Triangle of Death” [aka the deadliest part of Iraq during the war]. You’re gun-running. For the real guys, they felt safer doing it behind a computer.

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If they’re just working on a computer it’s easier to ignore that they’re profiting off the war.
It could have been anything for these guys. It could have been calculators, if they were getting a good profit margin off it. They just felt they would get the biggest profit with weapons. There was a war going on — a war that’s still on-going — so it does add a certain gravity to the material than if they were dealing calculators. But that wouldn’t be as interesting. [Pause] I say, that and cut to a year from now and I’m doing a movie about selling calculators. I’ll be like, “It’s actually a really interesting world, man!” [Laughs]

You’d be surprised at how dangerous the world of calculators is.
Hey, there’s shady stuff going on everywhere.

That can be your next movie with Jonah Hill.
“Something Doesn’t Add Up: The Calculator Movie.”

Do you find with movies — like “Bleed for This,” where you had to play a boxer — that you pick up some unexpected skill then immediately lose it?
Pretty much.

But you also get to travel the world. Here you got to go to Romania.
Yeah, but usually you have some issues you’re working out — know what I mean?

On this, I wouldn’t say you were the straight man, but you are playing the one who has more ethics than Jonah Hill’s character. How did you deal playing next to Hill saying really crazy stuff?
I mean, these guys are never doing [comedy] bits. I will say his laugh would make me smile. The closest thing I’ve played to a straight man was a movie I did called “Get a Job.” That took four years to come out, so maybe I’m not that good at playing the straight man. [Laughs]

What made you OK with playing the less funny guy to Jonah Hill?
Honestly, I wanted to play this part because I had just got done playing Vinny Pazienza [in “Bleed for This”], who was this flashy world champion boxer with big bravado, who was the definition of the cock of the walk. He was some version of Muhammad Ali, in the way he talked, the way he dressed. So I wanted to try something different. If I had just finished “Get a Job” and I got this script, I’d be like, “I want to be Efraim.” But I was totally cool with playing a guy who had more of a moral compass. It was my first time being a dad onscreen — just being somebody who cared. It’s not a weakness to play a guy who cares about his girl, cares about his kid. In a lot of these bro comedies, that element is rarely in there.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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